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Reflection – John Tulinsky

by on November 29, 2007

Observations from my Internship

The disclosure requirements of my internship allow me to discuss my work but I am precluded from naming the company in any material that will be publicly posted. Most of my classmates know where I work but for the record it is a Fortune 100 company whose business is the manufacture of a complex and technically-advanced product. The company has manufacturing and research centers throughout the United States but the primary ones are in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California and St Louis, Missouri.My internship is within the company’s technical library. Until recently the library provided traditional services such as collection management, cataloging and searches of technical literature. However it is no longer necessary to maintain a physical collection of technical books and journals and many of the other library services, such as searching, can now be performed by users using a growing assortment of tools. As a result the number of library staff has been steadily reduced over the past few years and library management is seeking to reposition the library as an information management resource that is focused on user needs and fully utilizes modern collaborative tools.
My role was to support the implementation of DSpace, an open-source institutional repository. The goal of the project was to provide structure to a large body of grey content, which is content that is not part of a formal document management system. For example, many scientists and engineers in the organization had participated in a program where they obtained an advanced degree while remaining employees of the company. The theses, dissertations, and publications generated by individuals who participated in this program clearly have great value but currently reside on a medley of personal computers, shared drives and sharepoint sites. This is one example among many of valuable information that simply is not available to the organization with current knowledge management practices.

Unfortunately, my project has moved very slowly as a result of resistance from a number of directions. The first problem is a result of the library attempting to build a specialized and customizable system. The IT department is highly territorial and does not like the fact that someone is attempting to adopt a new piece of software. IT favors large-scale enterprise-wide tools. Due to the enormous scale of the organization this is understandable. An additional information management challenge is that due to numerous government and military contracts as well as export restrictions on technology control of access to information is a critical business concern. The second major problem comes from the library’s attempt to redefine its role. There are numerous on-going knowledge management initiatives within the company; in fact, knowledge management is an important department and it is also resistant to the library taking on a project in an area it perceives to be its own.

Participating in the roll-out of a system like DSpace would be a nice bullet point for my resume but for me the most important part of the internship is the experience. As a short-term member of the organization I don’t have a major stake in the ultimate outcome of this project but the experience has been educational in unexpected ways. Given the size of the organization and the nature of its business I understand the need for maintaining order. However, much of the resistance appears to be resistance for its own sake rather than the result of different groups, with different goals and responsibilities working together to solve a problem. For example, although the Knowledge Management department is blocking this project they have no comparable project or plan to capture the content targeted by DSpace. At times it appears to me that there is no concern whatsoever for overall corporate goals, it’s simply a bunch of individual groups fighting against each other. In a past job for the pharmaceutical company Pharmacia I also observed this sort of intra-company conflict, although without the benefit of experience and the perspective provided by the MSIM program. Sometimes I’m puzzled how any large company is profitable. In the end I believe that one of the most valuable lessons from my internship was in teaching me that I don’t being the employee of a giant corporation.

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